The latest quadrennial report on the state of the nation’s roads, bridges, water systems and energy networks from the American Society of Civil Engineers shows that not much has changed since the last evaluation in 2013.
The overall D+ grade is a major cause for concern – just as it has been for years – and should be a call to arms for the GOP majority in Congress.
But though Republicans in the House and Senate chose to ignore the deterioration of the nation’s infrastructure in 2013 because it was an issue that Democratic President Barack Obama pursued, they are in a bind this year.
The occupant of the White House is Donald J. Trump, who ran for president as a Republican on a platform that turned GOP political orthodoxy on its head.
One of Trump’s major issues in the Republican primaries and the general election campaign was the deteriorating condition of the nation’s roads, bridges and other public structures, including airports. He pledged that if elected president, he would make rebuilding and upgrading the infrastructure a priority.
In his first speech to a joint session of Congress in February, Trump said he will push for a $1 trillion investment in America’s physical attributes.
Republicans in Congress risk the wrath of the nonpolitician in the White House if they ignore him the way they did former President Obama.
But while Trump is absolutely right in focusing on the nation’s infrastructure, the report from the American Society of Civil Engineers is a reality check.
The $1 trillion the president has talked about is a pittance of what’s needed to fix the nation’s dams, airports, roads and water and electrical system.
The 28 civil engineers who participated in the analysis have concluded that it will take $4.6 trillion to address all that needs to be done. The engineers looked at 16 infrastructure categories and considered capacity, condition, funding, future need, maintenance, public safety and innovation.
They also evaluated the strength of the current infrastructure.
One of the conclusions of the report confirms what President Trump has been arguing since the election: The nation’s infrastructure is “mainly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life. A large portion of the system exhibits significant deterioration. Condition and capacity are of serious concern with strong risk of failure.”
Republicans who control the U.S. House and Senate can pretend the nation’s roads, bridges and water systems do not need urgent attention, as they did when Obama was in the White House. But Democrats should not let them off the hook. Indeed, the minority party in Congress already has embraced Trump’s vision of what needs to be done.
OHIO’S URGENT NEEDS
In Ohio, which has long been a poster child for what ails the nation’s infrastructure, the 2017 report shows that driving on roads in need of repair costs each driver $475 a year.
More than 6 percent of the bridges are rated structurally deficient, while satisfying drinking-water needs will take an investment of $12.2 billion, and wastewater a commitment of $14.5 billion.
And here’s an eye-popping revelation: There are 362 dams in Ohio that are considered to be high-hazard potential.
“Delaying these investments only escalates the cost and risks of an aging infrastructure system, an option that the country, Ohio, and families can no longer afford,” the report stated.
So, how would the nation come up with the $4 trillion-plus price tag – $3 trillion more than the president has talked about?
One suggestion, which Republicans long have opposed, is to increase the gasoline tax. It has been estimated that a 25-cent a gallon boost – the last time the tax was hiked was more than 20 years ago – would cover the cost of infrastructure rebuilding and upgrading.
With President Trump leading the charge, there will be action this year – whether the GOP majority in Congress likes it or not.
Trump has talked about a public- private partnership, but has yet to provide details on how that would work. Private investors aren’t going to commit their dollars because the president asks them to or for altruistic reasons. They will expect a significant return on their investments.
There must be a national discussion on whether the private ownership of the nation’s roads and bridges is good government policy.